Thursday, October 6

Old men and Christmas



The contradiction between Christmas and old age is only apparent. Between the portal of Bethlehem and the nursing home, entrance to the new definitive birth. The birth of a Child, of any child, brings hope for the betterment of the world. As long as there are men who are born, who renew humanity, the human world can maintain illusions (Hannah Arendt). Because the future of each one, individually considered, is always death, and individual illusions, work, loves, projects, are still justifications for continuing to live a life that always ends in personal death. Only the man perfectly inserted in the family, tribal or national collective, can speak of true illusions. The loneliness of man only makes sense if from

she works for others, for the species to which she inevitably belongs. And only collective dreams, embedded in the memory of our species, unite us ‘really’ to others.

The life of the old that is exhausted in asylums, residences or nursing homes has the same meaning – or the same nonsense – as the life of human puppies that produce fresh noise in kindergartens; the sense of collective illusions, dreams, those archaic remnants of which Jung spoke and that constitute the common ‘ideology’ (Destutt de Tracy) of humanity. The dreams of children and the elderly must be taken very seriously, especially the ominous ones (‘somnia a Deo missa’). In the same way that Heraclitus affirmed that dreaming sleepers work for the waking life of the awakened, the dreams of the old work for the life of children and young people. We all belong to the same project, and faith in that common project bases our life as a fact with meaning. Those who sleep each return to the world of their own dreams. Children and old people, like sleepers and dreamers, have a private order or world, which is usually opposed to the public world of the awakened, who are adults. Or better yet, those that are between the two extremes of the dream of children and the elderly. Children and old people are the ones who best participate in the dreams of the species.

Precisely the archaic remnants of which Jung spoke are mental forms whose presence cannot be explained by anything in the individual’s own life and which appear to be aboriginal forms, innate and inherited by the human mind. Psychiatric experience shows that the unknown approach of death casts an ‘adumbratio’ (a premonitory shadow) over the life and dreams of the old dying man.

Unfortunately in our language the dream of sleeping (I am sleepy) is confused with the dream of dreaming (I had a dream), the ‘somnus’ and’ somnium ‘from Latin, the’ hýpnos’ and ‘enýpion’ from the Greek, or the ‘ sleep ‘and’ dream ‘from English. For Heraclitus, living is dying in a way analogous to how sleeping is also living. The dead who appear to us as living in dreams, “who rise again” (‘epanístasthai’, says Heraclitus), are perhaps no less reality than those others who see the awakened ones. What is illusion or what is reality are blurred between the ‘watchmen’ and ‘asleep’. There have always been false awakened and dreamers for sure. The gods wanted us to forget more about the things we do in sleep, dreaming, than those we do awake, vigilant. With this they limited the field of science, and of our individual arrogance, of course.

Old people, according to Lucretius (III, 1047-1048), still awake spend most of their lives dreaming, perhaps talking between dreams and shaking off ghosts, which is like going little by little inhabiting the world that they waiting. “Cum pariter mens et corpus sopita quiescunt.” Cryptomnesia or ‘hidden memory’ is activated in old age as dreams of reality.

The only real problem that awake old men have is knowing how to adapt. Knowing how to be old is the only basis of the joy of the old. This worries me so much that I am already preparing to fulfill my old age with dignity, if it is possible for me to achieve it. The secret is not to resist being young, but to preserve your intellectual curiosity for life. As long as curiosity is alive, one is not old, at least metaphysically speaking. Goethe taught us the evil old man in the figure of Faust. Faust appears to us as the prototype of the old man and the grumpy old man who does not want to adapt to his age – that is, the evil old man – since before Goethe tells us, from the first lines of the work, in which, putting aside with In a gesture of supreme disgust all the books that he once loved, he curses them: “At last I realize that we can never know anything.” And Faust will end up replacing the healthy and saving intellectual curiosity for magic, which is always a sign of intellectual decrepitude and ‘aeternum soporem’.

We live in times of barbarism, those of force and instincts not tamed by wisdom. And the gods no longer deign to appear in men’s dreams. Aesthetics is still in the dream of the old man who, as he says, was born yesterday and ‘ubera mammarum in somnis laetantia quaeret’. Today we have deprived all things of their mystery and numinosity; nothing is sacred anymore. But we cannot allow ourselves to be naive in dealing with the dreams of the old, secluded from Christmas in their residences. They originate from a spirit that is no longer fully human, but rather a breath of nature, a spirit of beautiful and generous goddesses, but also cruel.


Martin-Miguel Rubio Esteban He is a doctor in Classical Philology and a writer

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